From Dare We Hope That All Men be Saved by Hans Urs von Balthasar:
In cases where love prevails, extending directly to one's neighbor and valuing him as one's own self, "one can wish and hope the same thing for another that one desires and hopes for oneself. And as it is the same virtue of love through which one loves God, oneself and one's neighbor, so, too, it is the same virtue of hope through which one hopes for oneself and for the other." (Aquinas) The question that hovers in the background, and remains unstated, is how far this love extends....
Hans-Jurgen Verweyen, in an essay entitled "Das Leben alley als ausserster Horizont der Christologie" (The Life of all as the outermost horizon of Christology"), has at least posed this question. He puts forth this thesis:
"Whoever reckons with the possibility of even only one person's being eternally lost besides himself is unable to love unreservedly." And he stresses here, above all, "The effect of this idea on my practical actions. It seems to me that just the slightest nagging thought of a final hell for others brings on moments in which human togetherness becomes especially difficult."I think Verweyen nails the practical implication of the western church's hell doctrine. Human togetherness, a brotherhood of man? Nonexistent. But oh! When I followed that tug in my soul, laid my finger upon the invisible thread determined to see where it led... I found myself on the outside of such 'truth', looking back upon it as one who has wiped her eyes from a bleary sleep. And I can tell you, the light is brighter out here - the air is clearer - and Love is richer. I can Love my fellow man with no reserve. I can stand in solidarity with any sufferer, in the Spirit of Jesus Himself who laid down His life "while we were yet sinners". This is sweet fruit.
I recently experienced a practical manifestation of this change in thinking - indeed, in living. My friend Steve Knight made me aware that our local Sikh community would be holding a vigil and that all were welcome. All are welcome to any of their services, but this particular evening we were invited to stand with them in solidarity and remembrance of the victims in Wisconsin.
I decided to bring Aaron and Sarah along, while Eric talked to Luke and Mary about it from home. The time is coming when they will come to things like this with us as well, but their unique challenges require us to take things at a different pace. Aaron and Sarah were both surprisingly eager - I think it was more curiosity, than anything else. Sarah's eyes did light up when I told her she'd need a scarf that could be worn as a head covering, "They'll have to help me wrap it right - I want to look like them because I think that will make them feel good."
We enetered the Gurdwara, clearly not knowing what to do, but it was obvious we were not the only visitors. The gentlemen shooed Aaron off to the men's area where they removed his shoes and assisted him in applying a bandana type of head covering (I hadn't thought about a boy needing one). As Sarah and I removed our shoes she spoke up, asking an older lady to please help make her scarf look right. The lady kindly explained that it was called a "choony" and that there was no wrong way, as long as it stays on, while arranging it for her in an attractive way. We followed her in, and noticed that the men sat on one side and the women on the other- all on the floor. Aaron bravely took a spot on his own, as Sarah and I took ours. Before long a lady kindly told us that it is disrespectful to sit with your feet facing the front, that is why they either sit cross-legged or with legs folded to one side. Sarah thought that was interesting. She continued by saying that even in their homes, they never point their feet toward an elder, out of respect. Sarah looked at me with large eyes - I too, was surprised. It would take me quite some time to learn to pay attention to which direction my feet were pointing. But I loved the concept of respect.
As the service began there was a lot of singing, accompanied by two instruments - one a bit like a large accordion, and a drum. Best we could tell, it was actually one long hymn. They sang in the Punjabi language, but the English translations were provided on screens via powperpoint. I wish I could remember all of them, so many were beautiful - but this one stuck in my mind, because Sarah pointed it out:
"The clay is the same, but the Fashioner has fashioned it in various ways."
After the singing, a man gave a powerpoint presentation explaining the history of the Sikh faith. It was both interesting and educational; I found it especially helpful to think about the Sikh faith rising up in India about the same time the Renaissance was taking place in Europe. It was unheard of in India that a people would live in true equality, but they did - it was daring and new and required a great deal of conviction to live out these "new" values. They have suffered persecution in many ways, often as a result of standing up for others; one guru was tortured to death for demanding the rights of Hindus be protected.
When he finished his presentation, a woman explained that, in conclusion, we would be served the rashad (?) which I can only compare to our communion, but instead of bread and wine, they use pudding. Yes, pudding! (I'd love to know why) Aaron received his before we did - he shot me a worried look but I nodded him on to try it. He took a bite and his face did not show whether he liked it or not, so I was proud. By the time some was brought to Sarah and I (we were further back than him) I could already see that the "pudding' was more of a warm, wet dough. As they placed a ball of it in our hands, we smelled it and thought it smelled a bit like sugar cookie dough, but it tasted much less sweet than you'd expect. Sarah has massive sensory issues so I was proud she tried it, and that she (too) didn't let her face register whether or not she thought it was particularly good.
After they shared the rashad (sp?), their sacred book was carried out - on a man's head! Now, that's not something we've ever seen Pastor Nancy do! All very interesting.
Immediately following the service, we were invited downstairs for a meal. I dismissed the kids to play on the grounds, where we'd seen a trampoline and an impressive play area complete with rope swings that I'd have tried myself if I hadn't been wearing a dress. The food was delicious, but I was disappointed when we (the most obvious guests, aka "white") were directed to sit at tables in the courtyard, while the regular members sat on the floor inside. I wanted to sit where they were, but Steve reminded me that we were being given the honored position and we should accept that with humble gratitude. So, reluctantly, I did.
Following the meal, everyone gathered in front of the temple for the candlelight vigil. Five girls from their community read aloud a letter written by a 10 year old Sikh girl - "touching" doesn't do it justice. Then various faith leaders shared words of condolence and comfort - including our own Steve Knight. He said that as a Christian, his sacred text instructs him to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. I couldn't think of anything better to say. He also spoke of the common hopes and dreams we share, for ourselves and for our children; as he choked up over the words, I found myself doing the same.
There are some who would say - no, who do say - that Steve is less christian because of the inter-faith work he does. I stood there listening, watching - as his children and my children did the same ... and I knew better. I observed these beautiful people - girls smiling and laughing under their colorful "choonies", toddler-aged boys being chased by men in turbans who were struggling to keep them still and quiet, older women patting my children on the shoulder with sad smiles. I loved these people. I'd just met them, and I loved them.
I had no reason not to.
I no longer have the nagging whisper inside me, "But the Sikhs who were gunned down in Wisconsin are all in hell right now. Forever." As long as that whisper lies beneath, it informs all our attitudes and actions. Only the most heartless dare speak it, but its power still permeates. Ponder that with me: the power of unspoken fear.
I haven't been sure, lately, what kind of Christianity I'm bringing my kids up in, or whether I can still call it Christianity at all. At times the question has kept me up at night. And while faith should not require sight, mine sometimes does. So, I'm grateful - grateful that Steve showed us Wednesday night.